Jacksonville University (visited 2/12/16)
Sitting directly on the St. John’s River (which is one of two rivers that runs north – the other being the Nile), JU’s Marine Science Research Institute is top-notch. The city of Jacksonville is industrial, and the university does a lot to help lower the impact of the city on the local environment. It’s a “sweet water river” which flows out of the swamps. The water’s brown color has nothing to do with pollution; instead, it’s from tannins in the swamps.
The Marine Science building is new with amazing resources. The ground floor has tanks, flumes to simulate currents, and more. The 2nd floor has classrooms, labs, and meeting rooms. Several students were there studying; when I spoke to them, they were excited about the major and the school in general. “It’s an 8.5 on a 1-10 scale,” and “Tell your students to come here! The faculty ratio is great,” they said. They love that they can do cross-disciplinary work such as assessments of Coral Reefs: aviation majors fly the drone, engineering students run the tools, marine science majors examine the coral reef health. “There’s also an abnormally high number of people who start their own business,” said the Director of the program.
“Trans-disciplinary learning is nothing new here,” said one of the deans. This is the only school in Florida to require a class in economics: “Macro-economics requires a holistic view of the global economics.” The school invests in personal enrichment and community engagement. “The community today is the globe.” This leads to innovative research that students are excited about. “We are at the top 4% nationally for the number of submissions and acceptances for national undergraduate research conferences. We beat all the Ivy-league schools.” They had the highest number of accepted proposals (126) beating out even the top Ivy (Cornell had 115).
Business, Health Sciences, and Fine & Performing Arts are strong
- Their Kinesiology program is highly hands-on and cross-disciplinary; one well-liked project is the bio-chemical assessment of athletes which lets students in that department work with biology, chemical engineering, and other students.
The Nursing department is selective; faculty interviews potential students as part of the admissions process. They have direct entry, but students can also apply during freshman year.
- Their Emergency Nurse Practitioner program is 1 of only 7 in the country.
- The Education department has a pre-school on campus for 2-5 year olds; students intern there all the time.
- Business majors can specialize in International or Sport Business or Accounting.
- The Fine Art Complex is amazing, including a glass-blowing major and minor. A
freshman gave us a glass-blowing demonstration and almost finished making a bowl in the 20 minutes we were there. “The oven typically runs at about 2200 degrees; it’s running cool today at 2000.”
- In additional to the traditional types of art, students can also do sculpture, animation, illustration, and graphic design.
- They have a Dance major in addition to Theater Arts.
The size and quality of their Aviation Management and Operations major surprised me. Of the 160 students in the program, 22% are women. When asked who attends here versus Embry-Riddle, the Director of the program said, “ERAU is more the engineering, building of aircraft, etc. You can learn to fly at either place, but if you want to learn the business end of things, this is where you want to be.” The flying aspect costs an extra $65,000 over the student’s time at school.
NROTC has 54 students who take classes on campus; they’re ready to be commissioned right out of college. They participate in many local events including at the nearby base. They complete 4-6 week training cruises (or an equivalent: a Nursing student spent a summer at Walter Reed) all 3 summers.
The new President, an alum, has invested a great deal of money into the university. He had been in the business world for a long time, and he’s invested in making the school better. “Our campus has never looked more beautiful. There are a number of improvements: a new residence hall for freshmen, a new outdoor leisure space (which is used extensively as a study place, and even has electrical outlets), and a new workout center. We’ve also created new scholarships to appropriately reward students.”
There’s a 3-year residency requirement, but many students stay because of the new apartment buildings; the surrounding area also doesn’t get rave reviews, but all students can have cars on campus. The current president sent people up to look at UVA’s dorms and replicated them, adding study spaces, fireplaces, etc. They want to make the most of their location and their buildings. The River House had been the President’s house, but eventually was slated to be taken down for parking. When the current President came in, he nixed that: “we don’t need a parking lot with this view.” It overlooks the water, the campus pool and sand volleyball court, and more. Now it’s used for meetings, the Ratskeller, and more. Lots of students have cars on campus.
Greek life is very small, but sports are a big deal and they’re very proud of their teams. They currently have 501 student athletes, and 18/20 teams have a 3.0+ GPA. Retention rate among athletes is 94% with a good graduation rate. They’re DI “mid-major” (no PAC, Big 10, etc), including Beach Volleyball, Shooting, and Crew (“The women’s team is great! The men’s team… meh”). Campus has a practice green for golf, intramural fields, even an outdoor workout station. They just hired a Director of Ticketing, Sales, and Game Day Experience; attendance and school spirit is way up. The Athletic Director is also a full-time business professor who talked to us for a few minutes. “We win with honor and win in the classroom.”
Students who have left have done so for a variety of reasons: some had bad experiences with a coach, didn’t want to go to class, wanted to hide in a bigger class, bombed their first year and lost a scholarship, etc. That being said, JU is “pretty good at second chances.” One student spoke of a friend who failed a class and was put on probation but dug her way out of the hole and is doing great now. “Send us your B+ students. We can change their lives.”